Designing the Future Higher Ed Campus at The University of Maryland

As universities are striving to increase student collaboration, Dr. Scott Roberts is succeeding.

He started at the beginning. In the classroom.

He believes traditional learning spaces were designed with the teacher in mind, so they could speak at students. Collaboration was never a component of the traditional lecture hall setup.

That’s all changing at The University of Maryland.

Dr. Roberts is the director of the Teaching and Learning Transformation Center, where he oversees a campus-wide effort to support and inspire effective and engaging learning spaces.

He received his Ph.D at UMD in Social Psychology, before working for the federal government doing psychology research. He came back to UMD as the director of undergraduate studies in psychology, and then later transferred his passion to advance education to the entire campus.

He joined us on this episode of the Enrollment Growth University to share how his team is utilizing innovation in learning spaces with movable furniture, advanced technology, and creativity to inspire deeper collaboration among students.

Traditional Classroom Structure Is Teacher-Focused, Not Student-Focused

Learning spaces were designed with a presumption about what teaching involved, which, essentially, was just lecture. Rooms were never conceived to support any activity other than students sitting in chairs, facing forward, taking notes, while someone talked at them.

To Dr. Roberts, this taps on a larger issue — previously, the focus was 100% on the teacher. There was really never any thought for what the students were doing, other than sitting in a bolted chair.

UMD’s New Classroom Setup: Teach, Engage, Respond, and Participate

UMD has developed a number of different setups they’re calling TERP classrooms (Teach, Engage, Respond, and Participate):

Tiered: At first, these may appear to be traditional lecture halls, but the rooms are situated into tiers with two rows and tables on each row. The front row can turn 180 degrees to face the row behind them, so you can seamlessly move from forward-facing presentation mode to small group mode, where students sit face-to-face.

Desks on wheels: Rooms with wheeled desks, so teachers can easily reconfigure rooms.

Six-round rooms: Where students are seated at round tables, six apiece.

Media share rooms: Structured around peninsulas of six students. Each group of six has a computer screen, a keyboard, and a mouse, so students can collaborate on assignments.

Small Learning Space Change Is Creating Huge Engagement

As soon as you walk into one of these rooms — they immediately feel different.That feeling alone can rattle the expectation of what’s about to happen. Certainly, students can walk into a bolted lecture room and still find their instructor to be engaging; while it’s not always physically comfortable, it’s possible.

But when you walk into a TERP classroom, you immediately know you didn’t enter a traditional, passive lecture experience.

Students have been surprisingly receptive — Dr. Roberts has routinely surveyed his students and, overwhelmingly, they prefer the round-table format. When Dr. Roberts pressed them for a follow-up question, the number one answer had to do with the structure of the table and the room, forcing them to participate with each other.

Students know they benefit from engagement, but typical learning spaces make engagement socially and physically awkward. However, with a round table, you’re sitting down at a table, looking at someone who’s sitting across from you. You’re all making eye contact, and Dr. Roberts says you have a psychological sense of a team: You’re part of this group and you’re defined from all the other groups in the room.

Three Fast Tips for Universities Implementing Innovative Learning Spaces:

If you’re interested in redesigning your classroom experience, Dr. Roberts gave three quick tips:

  1. Visit a lot of campuses. Find as many new, innovative spaces as you can, which will help you consider how each fits into the vision for your campus.
  2. Consistency. When you create a new classroom space, it’s tempting to put the newest, greatest things into each one, but that can be a real challenge point for faculty who are transitioning between classrooms. If  an instructor teaches three different classes in three different rooms, consider their perspective: When each room is configured differently, such as how to turn on the lights, how to fire up the projector, how to use the technology, … these issues create real challenges for the instructors.
  3. Training. Make sure you are giving faculty and instructors the opportunities to spend time in those rooms, to practice the available technology, and to make sure you’re bringing in people who have actual experience in those spaces.

Go change your space.

If you want to find out more about Dr. Roberts, his email is

This post is based on a podcast interview with Dr. Scott Roberts from University of Maryland. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.